The Department of Labor is suing a Montana ranch that employs people with disabilities, alleging the ranch unlawfully paid them as little as $1.17 an hour, reports NPR’s Marketplace podcast. An exception to the Fair Labor Standards Act permits some certified employers to pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage.
According to Professor Peter Blanck, chairman of the Burton Blatt Institute, the 1938 law came at a time when lawmakers were starting to look at work opportunities for people with disabilities as veterans were returning from World War 1, and previously the Civil War.
“The below-minimum-wage program was kind of a product of its time that was not charity, but was a sense that people with disabilities could in some ways be employed,” Blanck said. In the last century, however, thinking and laws around disability have evolved.